THE TWO BIG ANTIQUE MARKETS in KYOTO
If you really want to get into antiques in Kyoto, you have to hit up Kobosan and Tenjinsan. First get your feet wet by taking part in these events and experience what it’s like to browse antiques in a large-scale format.
Having visited these markets, we at Sharing Kyoto can say this: Kobosan is best for those with an experienced and discerning eye for quality, while Tenjinsan is great for everyone from beginners to pros. Let’s break down how to get the most out of these events and explain what makes them different. So what are you waiting for? Let’s Go to the Antique Markets!
Kobosan, formally called Kobo-ichi, is held monthly on the 21st at Toji Temple.
This market started out quite simply as a fair for tea vendors, but as more people came to visit, a wider variety of shops appeared, and it grew into the large and wide-ranging market it is today. It has been familiarly referred to as Kobosan by locals for over 700 years. Even on weekdays, it gets over 100,000 visitors.
The antiques sold here are comparatively more expensive, too. The dealers are all professionals, so everything here is genuine, fine antiques. Sharpen your sensibilities and mull over the selections to find the very best antique for you. If you are an enthusiast of refined antiques, Kobosan is definitely the best place for you.
Tenjinsan, or Tenjin-ichi, is held on the 25th of each month on the grounds of the Kitano Tenman-gu shrine.
Like Kobosan, Tenjinsan started as a street fair for shrine parishioners to enjoy tea and drinks.
As with Kobosan, this market has over 1,000 shops lining the precinct!
At Tenjinsan, there are many items priced at the few-hundred yen mark, so it’s easy and approachable for anyone, no matter the size of your pocketbook. You will also find everything from genuine antiques to cute and unique ceramics by contemporary artists. The variety is great and appeals to everyone. You will find many young couples and visitors from overseas. It’s a great environment for beginners to antiques.
If you are just getting started in antiques, don’t know what kind of ceramics are out there, or want to train your eye further, first hit up Tenjinsan! This is your chance to casually learn about antiques.
Just going aimlessly and roaming around is a waste! Since you’ve made up your mind to go, you have to enjoy every last corner of the market. Based on our visits to these fairs, we want to share with you some ways to get more out of them. Keep these points in mind when visiting Kobosan and Tenjinsan!
The best items sell out right from early morning. Furthermore, shops that open in the morning may decide to pack up if the weather turns foul or if they don’t have many wares left. Quite a few leave by noon.
If you want to carefully sample the wares and select something thoughtfully, early morning is best.
There is much more to these fairs than just antiques. Another thing that makes them great is all of the food stalls that line the precinct.
The road that spans from the Keiga-mon gates of Toji Temple is where all of the shops congregate at Kobosan. At Tenjinsan, the area from the torii gate on straight through is where the food sellers ply their wares.
In Japan, festivals are always home to these stalls selling the Japanese version of “junk food,” and they offer unique classic wares beloved by the common folk. The typical approach is to snack while you eat. There’s something about eating freshly-cooked fried chicken, french fries, and grilled corn in this context that makes them taste even more delicious. The greasy and rich flavor of food served up by stalls is pretty addictive, you have to admit. One of the pleasures of these outdoor events is sharing a snack with your friends, significant other, or family.
Pictured is Chogoro Mochi sold at Tenjinsan. These shops are a staple of Tenjinsan and offer genuine mochi sweets in the classical style -- these were served to Toyotomi Hideyoshi 400 years ago when he held a tea event in Kitano. The tiny and thin mochi sweets feature smooth red bean paste inside.
In the colder months, it’s always nice to eat some mochi, take a tipple of sweet sake, and warm up body and soul while you peruse the fair.
After all, the signature trait of Kobosan and Tenjinsan is that they’re held like clockwork every month. Not only that, but you can find the same shops in the same spaces. That means that you can regularly go back and become a regular of a shop, which will help you refine your taste and get acquainted with numerous shops. Before long, you’ll be having a blast with antiques.
We highly recommend going back to the fairs for more.
But your antiques journey in Kyoto is just getting started! In the next section, we select five antiques shops that we can absolutely recommend 100% -- these are places where you will find your new favorite item! After developing a bit of connoisseurship at Kobosan and Tenjinsan, you can go to the shops to test your mettle, or you can simply travel through Kyoto in search of great Japanese-style antiques. So without further ado, let’s find the perfect antiques shop for you!